The Ashes & the Star-Cursed King



ime is cheap for vampires.

The slave learns this quickly. As a human, he’d felt every passing second—missed opportunities slipping by, as if swept away by an

eternally rushing river. Humans mourn time, because it’s the only currency that really matters in a life so short.

There are many things about his new life that the slave despises. But of all he grieves for his fading humanity, the loss of time’s mark is the most devastating. A life in which nothing means anything is not a life at all.

Years blur by like wet paint drowned in the rain, drenching a forever-blank canvas. The vampires of the king’s court revel in this agelessness. Centuries of life had dulled the common pleasures, making their tastes extreme and cruel. Sometimes, humans are the subject of this cruelty. Other times, human lives are too short and fragile. Turned vampires, then, are the next best thing—durable, longer-lived, but every bit as disposable as the humans they once were.

The slave is nothing special. He is not the only Turned among the king’s collection. He is not even a particular favorite. Time and boredom had driven the king to accumulate a well-curated menagerie of entertainment, men and women of every build, appearance, origin.

The slave does try—truly try—to hold onto his humanity.

But it slips away from him, day by day, anyway. Soon he cannot remember how long it has been since he was Turned. When he thinks of his life from before, it feels as if he is thinking about an old friend—distant, fond memories.

He watches the sunrise every day until the rays of light bite into his skin.

Days became weeks became years became decades.

Later, he will try and fail to describe in words the extent of his degradation during that time. To those who surrounded him, he was a collection of skin and muscle, an object, a pet, not a person. When this is what you are told for years, it becomes easy to believe it. It becomes easier to survive if you believe it.

Only one person treats him differently.

The king’s wife is a quiet woman with big, dark eyes. She rarely speaks, and she rarely leaves her husband’s side. In the beginning, the slave assumes she is just the same as all the others. But later, he begins to see her as a fellow victim of her husband’s cruelty—silent camaraderie in his blows, his ownership, his commands.

It stays that way for a long time.

Then, one day, he finds himself alone with her. He had been beaten badly that day, punishment for some imagined disobedience. When the others leave the room, he remains behind, bandaging his wounds with the rote routine of something he has done a thousand times before and will do a thousand more.

She remains, too.

She does not say a word. She just takes the bandages from him and winds them around the injuries he cannot reach.

He pulls away at first, but she is gently persistent. Eventually, he relents. When she is done, she rises and leaves without a word.

He has forgotten what it feels like. A kind touch. It hurts more than one might think. He can feel her hands on him for the rest of the night. It terrifies him, because he knows now he cannot forget it.

It starts like that.

They inch closer, over months, years, comforting each other in the wake of the king’s cruelty. It takes months before they speak to each other. But the words matter less than the kindness. The line was crossed that first night, that first gentle touch.

Everything after that feels inevitable.

In a dark world, eyes naturally find the light. She becomes the brightest thing in his.

By the time their silent meetings become meandering conversations, they had already long since jumped from the cliff.

By the first time he kisses her, mouth still stained with blood by her husband’s hand, they are already rushing towards the ground.

By the time they make love, they are so desperate for companionship, they don’t even care about the inevitable crash.

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